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The step-up is a versatile unilateral leg exercise that offers a wide range of variations, improves hip stability and symmetry of strength, and is unique in leg exercises by starting with the concentric motion.
Place one foot on a box or bench with the other on the floor. Using the raised leg with minimal assistance from the other foot or momentum from leaning the body forward, push through the whole foot to lift yourself up to a standing position on the box.
To maximize effectiveness, control the motion back down as much as possible instead of just dropping.
Emphasis can be changed with foot placement and starting position—the foot closer and knee farther forward will emphasize the quads more; the foot farther forward and shin vertical will emphasize the glutes and hamstrings.
The step-up provides unilateral leg strength for better symmetry and hip stability. Unlike most unilateral and bilateral leg exercises, it begins with the concentric motion in a mechanically difficult position—this makes it better for developing strength in the weakest position of the motion, helping with the sticking point of squats, and developing force more quickly.
The step-up can be loaded in a number of ways: barbell on the back, clean rack or Zercher position, one or two dumbbells or kettlebells on the shoulder(s) or hanging in the arm(s), barbell or dumbbell(s) overhead, or sandbag(s) on the back or shoulder(s)..
The down leg can be lifted once standing on the box to bring the knee up for added hip stability work (called a Russian step-up), slow eccentrics can be used, legs can be repeated or alternated, and they can be done without allowing the down foot to touch the floor. The step-up can also be done from the side of the box as a lateral step-up.
The step-up can be a primary leg strength exercise for an athlete who’s experienced and strong enough to use it as such and does not do bilateral squats for any reason, an accessory exercise for improved strength balance and hip stability, or as a rehab exercise (often using assisted slow eccentrics); it’s less effective as a hypertrophy exercise than lunge and split squat variations because of the relative lack of eccentric loading. As a strength exercise with heavier loading, reps from 3-6 can be used; for an accessory or rehab exercise with limited or no weight, reps from 8-15 can be used. Perform the exercise near the end of a workout after more basic leg strength work like squats.

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